I’m going to vastly oversimplify how it works, but:
Me: shows up to therapy as a simmering cauldron of low self-esteem and negative self-talk
Therapist: gets me to talk about these things
Therapist: helps me explore where these things probably came from (i.e., formative years with fucked-up parents)
Therapist: validates that things were severely fucked-up; provides thoughts on how it could have been handled better (if you really trust and respect your shrink, this voice will eventually replace the shitty-parent voice in your head)
Me: continues week-by-week to report new stimulus from my life and how I am handling these things
Therapist: understands current course of action based on deep understanding of my past, continues to validate current feelings, but also suggests different ways to handle and interpret these things going forward
Me: very slowly learns a different way of thinking about life and about myself, and of handling the things the world throws at me
I really believe in therapy as a long-term iterative process. It doesn’t happen in a weekend workshop; you have to keep experiencing the world and give your brain the chance to assimilate the possibility of doing things differently.
Advice on seeing a therapist
Don’t worry about telling them too much or being too personal, they’ve heard it all before, or read about it in books, unless you are a murderer who dresses as a clown and lures teenaged boys to his basement.
The more open you are the better chance they have of helping you.
On that note they all have different styles, in my experience the better ones will not tell you what to do or what you need, they’ll help you ask the right questions so that you can find your own answers.
They might tell you to exercise more, get better sleep, drink less, or take time for yourself, that kind of advice will help you in the process.
Don’t think of them as a Doctor who can heal you, instead think of them as a guide who can help you find the places to look for the healing, and support you as you go along what can be a very challenging journey.
You need to trust them, back to my first point, if you don’t trust them you won’t be honest.
The most important thing is that you must be ready to work, if you don’t want to change or if you think they are going to do it for you, this process will just frustrate you.
Therapy is like doing the rehab on an injury, it sucks and at times hurts, but it’s usually worth the effort.